Not many months ago I finished reading John Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the Pentateuch.  If you are only going to read one book on the Pentateuch, this should be it.  Prior to reading this book I can honestly say I never saw much more than a chronological structure in the books, and never saw how the five books fit together.  Sailhamer has illuminated the meaning of the Pentateuch in a way I never thought possible.

Sailhamer argues that the structure of the Pentateuch reveals the meaning of the Pentateuch.  While most of us think the purpose of the Pentateuch is to record the Law of Moses for Israel, Sailhamer argues convincingly that this is not Moses’ primary intention (if it were, the inclusion of Genesis would be inexplicable).  The Pentateuch was not the first written record of the Law (Dt 27:1-8), and it was written well after the giving of the Law at Sinai, so its purpose must go beyond a mere record of the Law.  Sailhamer argues that the structure of the Pentateuch reveals that its primary purpose was to confront its readers with their inability to keep the Law, and the need to live a life of faith while they wait for the promised seed: the future king from Judah (Gen 15:6; Ex 19:9; Num 14:11; 20:12).  The golden calf incident lies at the heart of the Pentateuch, exposing the heart of Israel’s problem: their heart.  That’s why the Pentateuch ends with an acknowledgment that something needs to be done with the human heart for people to be able to keep God’s covenant (Dt 30:6).